The Second Amendment, commonly referred to as the right to bear arms, is the constitutional provision that guarantees individuals the right to keep and bear arms. Even though in the text it talks of militias and people, the Supreme Court in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller interpreted it to also include the right of an individual to bear arms. The philosophy underpinning its inclusion by the founding fathers was the inalienable right of self defense and the duty of the citizen to act in defense of the state, whether in resisting oppression or external aggression (Johnson, 2002). Though these philosophical ideals still obtain to date, the application of the Amendment has wrought a lot of controversies.
Key areas of controversy include whether the extent of the right under the Amendment, that is, whether it can be limited, and if so whether the Federal or the State should limit or regulate it (Gerber, 2011). Another area of controversy is whether the Amendment has any use or relevance in the contemporary society (Charles, 2009), especially in light of incidences of mis –use of the right leading to gross violence and needless deaths. A critical analysis of the controversies leads to the conclusion that even though the Amendment raises pertinent issues in the contemporary society, both groups, that is, those for it and against it have approached the whole issue wrongly.
Delving into the historical background of the ratification of the Amendment, the founders had experienced the cruelty and ills of colonialism. The British in order to guard against any upraises and revolution banned any natives from keeping any form of weapons. This meant that the British could not only take any person’s property but also arm the person. The founders no doubt saw the British as a despotic authority, and in order to forestall such an authority in the new union introduced the Second Amendment as one of the safeguards.
At that time this right had two importance goals; one, to ensure the citizens would fight any despotic authority, and two, to ensure that individual citizens would be able to defend themselves and their property. From experience, the founders knew that an unarmed citizenry was incapable of not only defending the nation but also incapable of fighting an oppressive regime (Halbrook, 2012).
The Amendment did not cause many problems for quite some time after the ratification. The guns available then were not as many and deadly in terms of technology as today. Additionally, the rate of crime and violence then was not as high as today’s’. The issue of gun regulation or control did not suffice.
With time however many guns were produced in addition to the advancement in technology. The issue of gun control and by extension the limitation of the right to bear arms arose. Of particular relevance is the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre that occurred in 1929 in Chicago. The massacre led to the enactment of The National Firearms Act of 1934, which limited the use of certain guns. In deed the Supreme Court in United States v. Miller recognized that possession of some guns was not protected under the Second Amendment.
Another law that was also enacted as a consequence of inappropriate use of guns is the Gun Control Act of 1968, which was passed after several assassinations. The Act was enacted under the auspices of the Commerce Clause, and regulates the sale of guns. The Act requires any person selling a gun to be licensed. Even though the Act regulates the sale of guns, it does not expressly limit the right to bear arms. There are other laws limiting some aspect of guns ranging from undetectable guns (Undetectable Firearms Act of 1986) to background checks on persons purchasing firearms (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act), among others.
What this demonstrates is that there are certain controls and limitations in relation to possession and use of firearms. These measures were not in place when the Amendment was ratified. This to some extent deals with the argument that since the circumstances today are not the same as when the Amendment was ratified thus the Amendment should be done away with. However, even with these regulations and restrictions, there are several incidents that have put to test the necessity of the right of individuals to bear arms.
Some of the outstanding incidents include the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shootings. In both incidents, privately owned guns were used to commit some of the deadliest mass shootings in the country. The Virginia Tech shooting occurred in 2007 and 32 people lost their lives. The perpetrator used two pistols; a Glock 19 and a Walther. The Sandy hook shooting occurred in 2012 and 27 people died from the shooting, including the perpetrator’s mother. Ironically and sadly the perpetrator shot his mother with her rifle, a Bushmaster XM15-E2S. The perpetrator also used a Glock 20 in the shooting. These incidents among plenty others highlight the dangers of ownership of guns, and by extension the right to bear arms.
On the flipside however, there are incidents were guns in private hands have saved lives. For instance, there are numerous incidents were guns have prevented would be buglers and robbers. Johnson (2002) gives two examples one in which a 50 year old woman armed with a shotgun scared a burglar (P.4). In another incidence, a storeowner managed to thwart the efforts of a robber with a .357 Mag. Gun (Johnson, 2002). In deed there are plenty similar incidents that occur on a daily basis. Such incidents are rarely reported or highlighted as much as the mass shootings.
The point is that it cannot be gainsaid that guns are dangerous, especially in the wrongs hands; but neither can it be ignored that guns save lives on a daily basis. Again, as highlighted in the foregoing, the right to bear arms is not as absolute as pro gun control activists normally present it. There are restrictions and controls that try to ensure that guns are not in the wrong hands. This is the correct position in law as there is no right that is absolute, and thus pro gun proponents should be alive to that fact.
In interpreting the Second Amendment, it would be prudent to remember that the Constitution is regarded as a living document. Accordingly, it is not right to say that the Amendment should be done away with just because the circumstances obtaining at its ratification have changed. Similarly, it is also wrong to say that the right should be as limitless as it was at ratification. In conclusion therefore, the Second Amendment is important to the nation and should not be done away with. However, more needs to be done in terms of ensuring the right contained therein is not abused; after all that was hardly the founders’ intention.
Charles, P.J. (2009). The Second Amendment: The Intent and its Interpretation by the States and
the Supreme Court. North Carolina: Mc Farland & Co. Inc. Print.
Gerber, L. (2011). The Second Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms. New York: Rosen
Publishing Group, Inc. Print.
Halbrook, S.P. (2012). The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms.
Maryland: Ivan R Dee Incorporated. Print.
Johnson, T.L. (2002). The Second Amendment Controversy – Explained (2nd ed.). NE: iUniverse,